Catherine Corless: Synopsis of her research on Tuam Mother/Baby Home

Catherine Corless has a synopsis of her research on that Facebook page but it’s hard to read in the FB format. I made an easier to read version.

The Mother/Baby Home Tuam

The Mother/Baby Home in Tuam was opened in 1925 and was run by the Bon Secours Sisters to cater for unmarried mothers and their babies.

This was an era in our history when pregnancy before marriage was deeply frowned upon by church, state and family. The unfortunate woman who found herself in this predicament was quickly sent to an institution such as the Mother/Baby Home out of sight of prying neighbours and relatives.

The Bon Secours Sisters were a nursing congregation who had come from Dublin to take charge of the hospital wing of Glenamaddy Workhouse, which catered for the destitute, old and infirm, orphans and unmarried mothers. These Workhouses had been instigated by the Irish Poor Law since the 1840’s, but now after the Treaty, the Irish Free State reformed the whole system and put in place administration on a county basis, so that separate arrangements were made for the aged and infirm to go to County Homes, and for the unmarried mothers and orphans to go to institutions.

All Workhouses were closed, but it was decided that the one on the Dublin road in Tuam would be chosen as a Mother/Baby Home. The Home building itself was in a good structural state but needed quite a bit of repair. The Sisters and some of the mothers and children began the task of clearing and cleaning, and by the end of the year 1925, all were ready to move in. Dr. Thomas B. Costello was the Medical Officer for the Home and the Rev. Peter J. Kelly, a grandnephew of the former Archbishop of Tuam Dr. John McEvilly, was chaplain.

The building belonged to Galway Co.Co. and they were responsible for repairs and Maintenance, and a capitation grant was paid to the nuns for the cost and upkeep of the mothers and babies, and for the salaries of doctors. A maternity wing was added some time later. The travel writer Halliday Sutherland visited the Home in the 1950’s and it is worth quoting his review of the Home:

“The grounds were well kept and had many flower beds. The Home is run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours of Paris and the Reverend Mother showed me around.

Each of the Sisters is a fully trained nurse and midwife. Some are also trained children’s nurses. An unmarried girl may come here to have her baby. She agrees to stay in the Home for one year. During this time she looks after her baby and assists the nuns in domestic work. She is unpaid. At the end of the year she may leave. She may take her baby with her or leave the baby at the Home in the hope that it will be adopted. The nuns keep the child until the age of seven, when it is sent to an industrial school. There were 51 confinements in 1954 and the nuns now looked after 120 children. For each child or mother in the Home, the Galway Co.Co. pays £1 a week. Children of five or over attend the local schools. The whole building was fresh and clean.”

Haliday Sutherland, however, did not interview any of the resident mothers or helpers. Had he done so, he would have got quite a different story to the one he was told. During my researching the Home, I spoke to some mothers who gave birth there and their account of their confinements speaks of long unattended labours without sight of a Sister or midwife, it was only during the birth that a nurse was in attendance with only the help of an untrained resident. The doctor gave one examination when the mother was first admitted and that was the last they saw of him. No drugs of any kind were ever administered to help with pain, no kindness ever shown. Only mothers who had the ability to pay £100 for delivery services were allowed to leave after the birth. It was a condition that all others must wait a full year in the Home filling domestic duties, cooking, cleaning, minding the babies and children and tending to the gardens. The mothers did not have the choice of keeping their babies as outlined by the writer Halliday Sutherland. Seeing that their confinement in the first place was a hush-hush affair, no family would allow a daughter back home with a baby, as Irish Catholics in those days were in fear of a much distorted doctrine by the Catholic Church that the unmarried mother had committed a heinous crime. It is also to be remembered that the man who had fathered the child was never villainized or held responsible. Neither did the Irish state at that time offer any support for the unmarried mother.

The late John Cunningham, former editor of the ‘Connaught Tribune’ spent his early days in the Tuam Home, as his mother died in his infancy, and in an article which he published in the ‘Connaught Tribune’ April 1998, he speaks of the cruelty of the system which allowed the separation of babies from their mothers. In his article entitled ‘Emotional minefield of the rights of mothers and adopted children from the Ireland of yesterday’, John relayed the conversation he had with a woman who had spent most of her life in the Home: ‘What were the young women to do? Many weren’t wanted at home, they were ostracised by society. In those days a young woman could not become pregnant and stay at home. It was as simple as that. I saw the devastation when they were parted from their children. They nursed the child and looked after it for a year and then they went one way and the child stayed to be adopted or to be boarded out a few years later. I don’t know if any of them recovered from the heart-breaking parting. It was heart rending’.

For the children who were not adopted from the Home, they attended the Mercy Convent N.S. or the Presentation N.S. once they reached the age of 5. They were brought down to the schools in a line and always left a little earlier in the evenings, to ensure that there would be no integration with the other pupils. The sound of their heavy clogs making their way up the Dublin road is a memory that resonates with most people. After they made their first communion, many of the children were fostered out by families. There was an allowance per week from the Government at the time, and a yearly clothing allowance, provided to those families for the care of the children. Unfortunately, there was no vetting system in place to check on the suitability of those families to take those young vulnerable children, and many of them were sent to uncaring unscrupulous families who spent very little of the allowance on them. Many of the children were treated little better than slaves, but had to remain with the families until they reached 16 years of age after which many of them emigrated to England in the hope of a better life. Some of the children fared a little better, with the foster family accepting them as one of their own, and some even inherited the farmsteads they were sent to.

The Home was closed in 1961 as it had fallen into a dilapidated state. The children who had remained there were sent to the Industrial School in Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath. The Home and grounds remained vacant for a number of years, except for the rear building which was used by ‘Bontex’ who made school uniforms.

In the early 1970’s the whole building was demolished to make way for a new housing estate. When I started my research into the Home, I spoke to some of the residents who had moved into this housing estate on the Dublin/Athenry road, and they indicated that there was an unmarked graveyard in an area at the rear of where the Home once stood. It was believed that it was an angels plot for unbaptised babies, but further in my research I discovered that in fact, many children and young babies were also buried here. I was astonished to find that there was no formal marking or plaque to indicate that these children were buried there. I decided to contact the Registration Office in Galway to check for deaths in the Home. I was dismayed to find that in fact the number of children who died in the Home during its existence 1925-1961 numbered nearly 800. I now have all those children’s names, date of death, and age at death, which will be recorded into a special book.

It just did not seem right that all those children lay there unnamed and forgotten. Hence, I made contact with the Western Traveller and Intercultural Development (WTID) and a committee of interested people emerged, all with the view that some sort of Memorial should be erected in this children’s graveyard in dedication to their memory. Our committee is named: ‘The Children’s Home Graveyard Committee’.

We introduced our Project to erect a Memorial to the children, to the Tuam Town Council at one of their meetings, and got a unanimous decision that they would help us with some funding when they get their 2014 Grant Allowance. The Heritage Council have also promised to help but have cautioned us that Heritage Grants have been cut for 2014. Our fundraising is ongoing as it will take a large sum to complete the whole Project, i.e. to erect a proper Monument, clear the pathways into the graveyard, and to maintain the area with flowers and shrubs etc.

A St. Jarlath’s Credit Union account has been set up for anyone who would like to contribute to this very worthy Project.

Catherine Corless


  1. iknklast says

    It really all comes down to how dare women get pregnant when they haven’t been given permission.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Lovely that they took care of the flower beds and shrubberies while starving the PEOPLE they were paid to care for O_O

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Horrific stuff. The hypocrisy and brutality and general miserableness of this doesn’t surprise me although it is absolutely horrific.

    I find this sadly reminiscent of the Stolen Generations ( See : ) back here in Australia where Indigenous children especially those “half-castes” with lighterskin were taken from their mothers and raised by the state often in truly appalling circumstances of abuse, poverty and durn near slavery.

    Down the road from where I live there’s a memorial park with a fantastic sculpture of a grieving mother commemorating the Stolen Generations and calling for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Perhaps something like that will be done now for The Mother/Baby “Home” in Tuam too? I hope so. Maybe?

    I think there are a number of similar cases applying to Indigenous peoples’ and unmarried mothers and orphans in other nations too – not that it makes any of this better in any way at all.

    Dickensian and disgraceful in each and every case.

    These are parts of history that everyone should know and and feel sorrow for and make sure we never repeat anything remotely like them again.

  4. Mary Mullins - Waller says

    The Mother Baby Home Tuam Co Galway Ireland is as bad as it gets. I would compare it to the Nazi’s
    treatment of Jews throwing them into mass pits. The Catholic Church and Nuns have to be held accountable as I feel sure it’s not the only home in Ireland and other Countries who have done this.
    The shame that pregnant girls brought on the family was put ahead of the beautiful young children’s lives.
    I hope Pope Francis speaks out on this horrific crime . The Catholic Church is all about money, maybe church
    goers should not fill the basket with cash during Mass, but instead give a donation to St Jarlath’s Credit Union
    Tuam for a memorial. The Catholic Church should erect the Memorial, but I suppose it’s too much to expect the Vatican to let go of it’s gold. The leaders of the Catholic Church in Ireland are Feckless.

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    The Australian ‘stolen generations’ trope has lost some of its sheen. The treatment of Australia’s first nations is catastrophic enough without exaggerations. There HAS been another scandal in Australia around ‘orphan’ children from England being dumped in Australia and ‘adopted’ as free labor by farmers.

    ‘N.S.’? PLEASE Don’t use initials and acronyms without defining them. ‘Nuclear Ship?’ ‘New Style dates?’ ‘Nova Scotia?’

  6. Abraham V. Llera says

    Shouldn’t we try to get the facts first before condemning the nuns and the Church.

    One thing I know institutions like this totally depend on government support or private sector support; the nuns are there only to provide manual labor, for free, of course.

    My question: If funds were lacking, are the volunteers to be blamed?

  7. Heather McLemore says

    Perhaps before jumping to conclusions, one might do a bit more critical thinking and research.

    These homes were NEEDED because of those in town that refused to allow unwed mothers to deliver in the hospital w/ them. Yes, some were Catholic, but many were Protestant (ALL of us tend to be selfish & stick our noses up, I don’t care who you are. It is something nearly all of us need to work on).

    These sisters had the care minimum, & they definitely did not have the luxury of pain meds or the finest delivery drugs/ equipment. They were lucky to have antibiotics. This was also during a very hard economical time for Ireland, famine was great.

    The year was to help work off the expense and resources of the free delivery. As mentioned, the sisters were varely staffed, so needing extra hands to help care for ones newborn doesn’t seem to be so unkind.

    Regarding being able to take their child home w/ them, this is TRUTH! It was not the sisters that refused to give these young/ unwed mothers their babies, but the girls own parents (so concerned over what others might think- which is NOT the teaching of the Church, as we are to help those that make mistakes, not shun them (another problem we all must work on).

  8. says

    The year was to help work off the expense and resources of the free delivery – think about that a little bit harder. A YEAR OF UNPAID LABOR to pay for “the expenses” of a delivery?

    Doesn’t that seem a bit steep?

    And if it wasn’t the teaching of the church that single mothers and their children were to be shunned where possible and bullied the rest of the time, why is that so universally what the nuns did? Why is the Ryan report so packed with accounts of cruelty and bullying at the hands of the nuns?

    Do some research yourself.

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @6. johnthedrunkard :

    The Australian ‘stolen generations’ trope has lost some of its sheen. The treatment of Australia’s first nations is catastrophic enough without exaggerations.

    Okay, firstly are you claiming the Stolen generations situation has been exaggerated? Because, y’know extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and all that.

    Secondly, “lost sheen” says who and why?

    As I say, there’s this place down the road with lots of evidence and memories. There are real peopel who’ve been badly hurt by it and dmaage done. Not srue where you’re comingfrom here and what your case is supposed to be.

    Thirdly, this is kinda getting off topic and derailing, sorry Ophelia Benson, mea culpa, I guess just something it reminded me of.

    There HAS been another scandal in Australia around ‘orphan’ children from England being dumped in Australia and ‘adopted’ as free labor by farmers.

    Yes. Agreed. Indeed there are a lot of such shameful cases and probably more will still be exposed and publicised in future.

    Which does NOT justify or excuse a single guddurn one of them.

  10. Claire says

    The stolen generations comparison is extremely apt, in that it was an official war against specific, vulnerable groups. I’ve noticed a discomfort in certain quarters when the political nature of the crimes are pointed out.

  11. milesnagopaleen says

    @ Heather McLemore
    “For each child or mother in the Home, the Galway Co.Co. pays £1 a week” In 1954, this was a tidy sum. Two pounds per week was probably more than the average family had to survive on. Add to that the generous “donations” the nuns received from adoptive parents (often wealthy Americans). Far from not having the “luxury of pain meds”, they could well afford to give these mothers the best care available. Yet they witheld pain medication as a form of punishment. As for it being “a very hard economical time for Ireland” when famine was great”, I think you are confusing post-war rationing with famine. I was born in Ireland in 1955. Times were hard but there was no famine.
    Infant mortality rates in these homes was four to five times the national average. Evidence from death certificates shows that these children died from preventable diseases and malnutrition. This was inexcusable as the nuns were very well funded by the local health board and these children should have fared better than the general population. Try facts as opposed to imagination.

  12. says

    Read my novel ‘Druid’ by Michael Conneely, for more about the horror of the Catholic Church’s treatment of orphans and their mothers.
    I myself was placed in a Bons Seccours Convent Orphanage at Sheringham in Norfolk, in England where my mother had left her family of 14 children to work on a farm.
    The Reverend Mother then blackmailed my mother to agree to place me for adoption.
    When she then asked to change her mind, a further Blackmail was made on her by the Parish Priest of The Church of Christ the King, at Tully Cross, Co Galway,
    Tully Cross is in the Arch Diocese of Tuam, it’s very close to where the sad bodies of the 796 orphans have now been discovered.
    The Parish Priest told my mother that if she made any attempt to return to England to keep me, he would be ‘reluctantly compelled to inform her mother of her lapse from Virtue’.
    I have the copies of all the blackmail documents.
    As a penance he then made her climb the near-by Croagh Patrick Mountain, barefoot.
    In my novel, I look at the terrible consequences of Saint Patrick’s conversion of Ireland after his forty days’ fast on near-by Croagh Patrick: Ireland’s Holy Mountain. After Saint Patrick converted Ireland, the Irish then lost their language, their forests and their sovereignty.
    The consequences for the mothers and the children of the Catholic Church’s treatment are huge: and they last for generations.
    I also record my own and my mother’s story in the novel.
    I now ask for Croagh Patrick Mountain to be renamed – and actions taken to undo the damage Saint Patrick did to the Irish People.
    If you would like to read it, my novel, Druid, by Michael Conneely, is available on Amazon as paperback or kindle.

  13. Sean Preston says

    People are grandstanding on the grave of these poor children to make wild unsupported accusations. We simply do not know what happened and should await the facts.

  14. says

    “One thing I know institutions like this totally depend on government support or private sector support; ”

    What financial reasons are there for leaving children in putrefying diarrhoea?

    “When the nappies were opened, it emerged the babies and toddlers were sitting in putrefying diarrhoea that was being ignored and the nuns wanted it all covered up.” ”

    What financial reasons are there for gloating about not giving pain killers?

    “When Ms Goulding asked why she could not access needles to stitch women who had been torn during childbirth, she was told she was not allowed to open the cabinet. “I’m afraid, nurse, the key to that cabinet has never been handed over. Girls must suffer their pain and put up with the pain of being torn — she [the nun] says they should atone for their sin.” ”

    You’re yet another foreign Catholic apologist in a long line who have appeared from the woodwork this week completely and utterly ignorant of Irish history who has decided they know the facts more. And I for one am heartily sick of you all.


  15. john miles says

    I just want to endorse everything said by Mary Mullin, the behavior of the Catholic hierarchy and the Irish Politicians is utterley inexplicable to any normal human. I write as someone who lived happily for ten years in Ieland with my Irish wife and can’t believe such things were going on even while Iwas there. It only goes to show what an evil influence religion has on people.

  16. says

    Thank you, Catherine Corless, for your tireless work to being justice to the those who have no voice and some type of closure to the loved ones affected by this.

    I agree with John Miles about his comment on religion. How very accurate. As a young child and into adolescence, I wanted to enter religious life. I did not. The utter destruction of human lives on many levels (emotional, spiritual, physical) by the “righteous” who inflict pain – knowingly or unknowingly – continues until today.

    May Catherine’s work bring comfort to those who were housed in that place.

  17. says

    Hi there,

    Good evening to you I am more than interested to talk with you about Irish Mother & Baby Homes as we offer timely / affordable supports to women in Ireland and abroad around this area and we would love to let you about what we offer women, and families both in Ireland and abroad.

    Supports are really needed to help women Talk About their experiences. Can I direct you to Sally’s Story which is on our website and also has been in The Journal over the past weeks too.

    Sally’s Story

    My mobile is 087 1388199 please could you contact me.

    Warmest regards,
    Irene Lowry
    CEO Nurture

  18. edel says

    Have we any update at all on the investigation which was supposedly being undertaken? What kind of actions have begun, if any? I’m astounded that media coverage has slowed to a stop on this issue.

  19. says

  20. Edel says

    I’m so happy to hear this, I don’t know how these articles are only coming to my attention now but thank you so much for sharing.

  21. says

    You’re welcome, and again thanks for asking.

    You know about Google News? It can be very useful for things like this. Just go to Google and type in google news – it finds itself!


  1. […] For those concerned with the fate of the deceased, a far more constructive step than online narratives would be to donate to the St Jarlath’s Credit Union account set up for the purpose of receiving donations to the memorial fund which is one of the reasons why Catherine Corless broke her story. Incidentally she does not seek to lay the blame at the door of the Catholic Church – her reflections being far more nuanced.  […]

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